Month: July 2014

Argentina’s 2014 Default: A Story of Evil Clowns

Queen of the Evil Clowns

 

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

The above is almost always true.  Unless, of course, one is an incompetent clown.

Normally, when a government, even within the structures of a democracy, has complete control of the presidency and both houses of congress, one expects that the country will move vigorously to get large projects done, projects that need true political unity, and take huge forward strides.  This would be especially true in a case such as Argentina under the Kirchners, where the single-party domination has lasted for more than a decade.  

Unless, of course, one is an incompetent clown – or a circus full of incompetent clowns, as in this case.

OnJuly 30th, 2014, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s populist government has taken its reign to a new low mark by driving the country into an unnecessary, shortsighted default of the national debt.  It may be a disaster for the country, but it is a fitting exclamation point to Argentina’s lost decade.  There is no question: this, more than any of the other errors, are what will be remembered about the Kirchner era.

Argentina's Minister of the Economy, circa July 2014

Now how did we get here?

Well, if you ask the government today, they’ll probably shout something about having inherited the mess from the previous administrations… but ten years on, is anyone with a minimum of sense going to believe them?

I don’t think so, and therein lies a clue to the explanation.  You see, Kirchner’s government – mostly Cristina’s but her late husband, ex-president Néstor Kirchner was also guilty of this at times – has decided that, when reality doesn’t coincide with the party line, then reality is wrong.

Christina Kirchner's Government

The largest obvious indicator of this is the way the government has systematically lied about the real inflation that was measured in the country.  While various extremely trustworthy metrics exist, the “official” inflation was always about 10% of the independent metrics.  The reason this was so clownish was that anyone with a notebook and a calculator could go out into the street and measure the real price changes.  Of course, if you did that, the government would call you delusional.

So, if it was so obvious, why did they insist?  

Well, it has to do with what this government sees as success.  The model we all want to follow is Venezuela.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m shown an oil-rich country in which there isn’t enough toilet paper to go around because of the mismanagement of the economy, my first thought is: “look, more clowns!”  But that is the circus which Cristina is molding her fantasy clown world government on…

Well, the delusion has come around and bit them.  Sadly, it will also bite 40 million Argentines as well.  The people who voted for this populist government – generally, poorer folks, less able to actually analyze issues and make intelligent decisions – are going to be the hardest hit.  They aren’t educated enough to really deserve it, however.  They trusted a government to guide them, and that government defrauded that trust while trying to live in a utopia that died with the fall of the Berlin wall.  Their delusions are going to mean real hardships for people who mistakenly trusted them.

So, not just incompetent clowns.  Evil incompetent clowns.  Clowns who are so incompetent that, despite the billions of (ever-less-valuable) taxpayer pesos they’ve spent trying to make their citizens believe that reality is what it isn’t they can’t change the past… or the future.  If you listen to them, it’s clear they don’t even know what’s going on in the present.

Well, the only good thing about them is they haven’t started a war, unlike other clownish governments the world over.  Probably don’t have fuel for the tanks.

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Hirohito’s Pearl Harbor

Nakajima B5N1 Torpedo bomber

Stacy Danielle Stephens is back with yet another fascinating insight into the thought processes of the leaders in WWII.  We love receiving these pieces, as they make everyone think…  this one in particular!

 

In the spring of 1940, Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, and Rear Admiral Shigeru Fukudome were watching torpedo planes in a training exercise when Yamamoto wondered aloud if a carrier strike against the Americans at Pearl Harbor might be possible.  A long war with the United States could only end in Japan’s certain defeat and likely destruction.  The Japanese government was under no illusions about this.  But Yamamoto anticipated that a surprisingly powerful strike at America’s Pacific Fleet would cripple the US Navy long enough for Japan to secure a number of strategic island chains, forcing the United States to negotiate a settlement.

Japanese Aircraft Carrier

For the next several months, Commander Minoru Genda prepared a preliminary plan, aspects of which were then tested and refined throughout the spring and summer of 1941, although no formal decision was made until September 6th, when an Imperial Conference was brought to a conclusion by Emperor Hirohito’s recitation of a short lyric verse[1] his grandfather, Emperor Meiji, had written almost forty years earlier at the beginning of Japan’s war with Imperial Russia.  All officers and officials at the conference were taken aback.  Not only it was this poetry reading unprecedented, but the Emperor’s intent was not clear.  Meiji’s poem was generally seen as voicing an Emperor’s concern and anxiety over the uncertain fortunes of war.  However, in light of the outcome of that war, one might wonder if Hirohito were, in fact, openly endorsing pacifism and urging diplomacy, or in reality expressing confidence in his military, in spite of their failure to subdue China as handily as he had wished, and tacitly encouraging them to proceed toward a victory which only appeared doubtful at the outset?

Emperor Meiji

 

Admiral Yamamoto understood the Emperor to mean that the Navy’s plan to attack Pearl Harbor should be considered operational, and immediately set it into motion, so that the fleet would be ready to weigh anchor by November 26th, with the understanding that it could be recalled at any time prior to the first wave of aircraft leaving the carrier decks.

General Hideki Tojo, Minister of the Army, understood the Emperor to mean that the Army’s plan to attack the Philippine Islands, as well as British and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia, met with approval, and should be finalized, and that all preparations necessary to carry out these attacks, in the event US acquiescence could not be garnered within the next twelve weeks, should be made immediately.

Prime Minister Konoe understood the Emperor to mean that he was determined to avoid war with the United States.  So Konoe renewed his attempts to negotiate the restoration of US oil exports to Japan, although he had no reason to believe any agreement on this matter was possible.

 

* * *

 

As he let slip the dogs of war in September of 1941, what was Emperor Hirohito about?  Within four years, his country would be reduced to wreckage strewn upon ashes, and he would not be held responsible.  Had no one heard him cry havoc while those summer days faded into an autumn that would culminate abruptly on a day which would live in infamy?

 

[1] Across the four seas, all men are brothers.  In such a world, why do the waves rage, the winds roar?

Signs of the times – stamp edition

The World's Most Expensive Stamp - the 1 cent British Guiana Black on Magenta

Like many of the traditional hobbies, I’m certain that if you ask most westerners about stamp collecting, most will probably say it was something their parents or grandparents did.  They’d probably follow up with “There are more compelling new ways of spending time, including Facebook games… why would anyone spend a long winter afternoon sorting stamps?”  This is a genuine question

If you happen to ask one of the small percentage of people who actually take their noses out of Candy Crush long enough to know what’s going on around them, they might be aware that a stamp from British Guiana recently sold for around $10 million – but like most pastimes of the super-rich, this will also feel like something that doesn’t apply to them.  Telling them that, by weight, it’s the most expensive object known, probably won’t help.  The yellow stamp below probably wouldn’t be far behind if offered for sale.

Treskilling Banco Yellow

So what?  Isn’t it dying?

Well, that depends.  While it’s obvious that no one sends letters anymore, and most packages don’t have stamps applied to them, so stamp production isn’t what it was.  It’s also pretty clear that school-age children don’t see collecting bits of paper as much of a competitor to their iPads… so, yeah, it seems that the hobby (like a lot of others) is disappearing.

But that is only if you filter your perception of the world through Western eyes. Two countries in which stamp collecting has taken off in recent years are China and India.  It has happened in different ways and with different dynamics, but in both places, the hobby has become extremely widespread among the emerging middle classes.

Now, this just illustrates, once again, how most Westerners – whether they are from Canada, Belgium, South Africa or Paraguay – have a huge blind spot when it comes to just how many things, important things, are happening in Asia right now (note I don’t include Australians on that list – they know it very well).  

Most people sense that the future of the world is slowly moving East, but they can’t seem to grasp the concept in a “so how does this affect me?” way.

Well, one way it affects you is that if your grandfather had an old collection of stamps, I’d look at the asian ones carefully…  You never know.

But more importantly, it’s interesting to see how they are collecting in the East.  

Expensive Monkey Stamp

As mentioned, China and India have different philosophies.  The Chinese concentrate on their own heritage, so stamps from classic eras are of little interest due to the Colonial ties.  PLus, they are often non-traditional investors, so stamps often go into their portfolios.  The innocent-looking monkey stamp illustrated is not that old…  But is worth $1500 (full sheets can be worth $150K).

Indian stamp collectors, on the other hand, are a more varied lot… because many of them are children.  The reason for this is that the hobby is actively encouraged in schools.  I assume I don’t have to spell out for you how popular anything that Indian youth is interested will become when that generation grows up (if I do, you’re reading the wrong blog).  Indian’s are also understandably fond of the post-independence stamps, especially anything showing Gandhi (stamp below was record at over $200K)!

200K Gandhi stamp

So, we can confidently assert that the stamp collecting hobby is actually growing… So that should give you a nice fact that no one knows at your next party.  Even better, everyone will say “no way” and make you look good if you quote the above.

We know our readers don’t need this help… but we’re happy to offer it anyway – we don’t want you looking like Dilbert:

Philately will get you nowhere

Some Arms and Armour Terms and Facts

Medieval Armor

Our guest post today is a treat for anyone who likes antique arms and armor, but is either frustrated with the modern portrayals of it or just wants to know more about the subject.  The guest post’s author, Richard H. Fay is an artist/illustrator/poet/writer of fiction and non-fiction/medievalist who is inspired by history, myth, legend, and folklore.  His artwork can be found in any number of magazines, and you can also purchase products featuring it at: http://www.zazzle.com/richardfayhttp://www.cafepress.com/azurelionproductions and http://www.redbubble.com/people/rhfay/shop .

Even in this supposed Age of Information, some people still seem a bit misinformed when it comes to proper terminology used for and certain actual facts about historic arms and armour. This may be especially true in the realm of fantasy literature, though such inaccuracies are not restricted to that realm alone. On occasion, one may run across authors of fiction and non-fiction alike using less-than-proper terms, such as “plate mail” or “scale mail”.  At other times, one may read about heroes wearing overly-burdensome armour that no sane warrior would don or wielding heavy swords that no experienced swordsman or swordswoman would ever carry into battle. Such mistakes stick out like a sore thumb to anyone with knowledge of historic arms and armour. The use of proper terminology and accurate facts in reference to arms and armour not only aids the scholar of historic arms and armour in his or her studies and writings, it also helps the fantasy author create a more realistic fantasy setting. At the very least, an author utilizing more appropriate jargon and factual details won’t sound like he or she got their information from video games and role playing game rulebooks!

Mail Shirt - not chain mail!

First off, “mail” is not a generic term for armour. The term “mail” (sometimes spelled “maille”) refers specifically to a flexible form of armour composed of interlocking metal rings. The English word mail possibly derives from the French maille, which itself is thought to derive from the Latin macula, meaning “mesh of a net”. Victorian antiquarians coined the pleonastic phrase “chain mail”, which is still in widespread used today. However, many modern scholars of historic arms and armour believe “chain” to be a redundant word, since “mail” already refers to a metal fabric of interlocking rings.

As for the terms “plate mail” and “scale mail”, they are absolute rubbish! Again, we can blame the Victorians for the absurd notion of using “mail” as a general term for armour. Knowing what the term “mail” actually means, it should be clear to see that the phrases “plate mail” and “scale mail” make no sense. Toss them right into the dustbin and be done with them!

The Romans did have a generic term for body armour: lorica. Thus, a lorica hamata (hamata = “hooked”) means a Roman body armour of mail, lorica squamata (squamata = “scaled”) means a Roman body armour of scales, and lorica segmentata means a Roman body armour made up of iron segments or lames. However, lorica laminata, a term the Romans themselves may have applied to what scholars today call the lorica segmentata, is gaining ground amongst some enthusiasts.

Medieval terms for a coat of mail include byrnie, hauberk, and haubergeon (usually a smaller type of hauberk with shorter hem). Hauberks could also be composed of scale or plate. “Hauberk of Plates” occasionally appears in medieval sources as a label denoting plate protection for the torso. Such a protection, consisting of plates riveted or sewn inside a fabric cover, might also be called coat of plates (the usual modern term for such armour), pair of plates, or simply plates. The brigandine, a developed form of coat of plates used from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, consisted of many metal plates riveted inside a fabric covering.  The brigandine’s poorer cousin, the jack of plates, featured overlapping plates sewn between layers of canvas.

As mentioned above, plate armour should not be called “plate mail”. That’s just wrong! More properly, plate armour should be called just that, plate armour. Harness is the preferred term when talking about a full suit of armour. Cuirass, from the earlier cuirie (a leather defence for the breast), refers to protection for the torso, breastplate and backplate.  The uncovered harness of the “knight in shining armour” of the Late Middle Ages is called white armour or “alwhyte”/”alwite” armour.

One misconception about late medieval and Renaissance plate armour, popularised by the Victorians (again) and some classic Hollywood films, is that plate armour was unduly heavy and rendered the wearer relatively immobile. What rot! While it is true that some specialised tournament armour was exceptionally heavy and deliberately locked the wearer into position, armour made for the battlefield allowed the wearer to move and to fight. For those trained to fight in armour, well-made field harness was neither excessively heavy nor impossibly inflexible.  A full plate harness weighed around forty-five to sixty-five pounds or so, and because of the armour’s crafty design, this weight was distributed more evenly than the similarly-weighted kit borne by modern soldiers and firefighters. Contrary to what was shown in Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film Henry V, the late medieval knight did not require a crane to mount his warhorse. While clad in full field harness, the famous French marshal Boucicaut could scale the underside of a ladder using just his arms.

Medieval Sword

Speaking of the actual weight of historic arms and armour, medieval swords were neither exceedingly hefty nor excessively clumsy. Not the brute-force weapons some believe them to have been, medieval swords were properly weighted and well-balanced for the job they had to do, cutting up and dismembering the swordsperson’s opponents . The pommel at the top of the hilt wasn’t there just for decoration; it helped counter-balance the weight of the blade. The fuller found on the blades of many swords did not function as a blood grove; it helped lighten the blade without sacrificing strength. Most medieval one-handed swords weighed, on average, less than three pounds.  Larger swords-of-war, with longer blades and hilts, typically weighed less than four-and-a-half pounds. The specialised two-handed swords of the Renaissance Doppelsoldners weighed around five to eight pounds, not absurdly heavy for swords of such great size. Some huge processional swords weighed as much as fourteen pounds, but such ponderous pieces created for ostentatious display were never intended for use on the battlefield.

With the correct information easily available to those who know where to look (the links below are a good start), there is no excuse to perpetuate the popular myths and misconceptions about historic arms and armour. With a little research into the subject, one may utilise proper terminology when writing about arms and armour, whether it be in non-fiction essays or fantasy fiction. With a bit of knowledge on the subject, there really is no excuse for using imprecise terminology and inaccurate facts when describing arms and armour.

Some links of interest:

http://www.legionxxiv.org/loricapage/

http://legionsix.org/equipment/basic-gear/body-armor/

http://www.arador.com/armour/armour-glossary/

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/aams/hd_aams.htm

http://www.thearma.org/essays/weights.htm#.U7W_wLHts1I

http://www.thearma.org/essays/2HGS.html#.U7XCkLHts1I

http://www.varmouries.com/vweights.html

Operation Barbarossa

Battle of Stalingrad

Once more, we have been able to secure a post from the immensely knowledgeable Stacy Danielle Stephens.  This one is also a WWII issue, moving east in this case, and we’re delighted to present it!   As you will see, it’s also part of a work in progress – and a fragment of the “Barbarossa” chapter at that!  But it does induce thought, in and of itself, and we loved it for that reason.

 

When the German attack began, it was not yet midnight in New York, and only a quarter past eight on the West Coast.  The majority of Americans heard about it on the radio before going to bed on Saturday night, and didn’t read about it in the papers until Monday morning.

The United States Joint Chiefs of Staff advised President Roosevelt that the Red Army could be depended upon to resist the Germans for at least four weeks, although it would ultimately be destroyed, certainly within thirteen weeks, and more probably sooner than that.  Other than Joseph Davies (the former U S ambassador to the Soviet Union) and journalist Vincent Sheean, virtually no one outside the Soviet Union believed, in the summer of 1941, that the Red Army would survive the war, let alone that the Soviet Union would emerge from it victorious, becoming a world power in the process.

The consensus was that the Red Army had inadequate transportation and communication capacities, and was both poorly led and poorly equipped.  This assessment was drawn entirely from the events occurring on the Finnish frontier in November and December of 1939, when the Red Army’s amphibious assault on the south coast of Finland failed, while a million Soviet soldiers, bogged down in mud and lost in persistent fog, were unable to advance against the substantially outnumbered Finns, who were not only able to ski into the midst of Soviet formations, but able to ski out again within moments of inflicting very heavy casualties with very light weapons.  In addition, many Finns were wily enough to misdirect Soviet supplies to their own depots, and to draw rations from Soviet field kitchens.  But by the end of January, Finland was seeking peace terms, and by March, both the winter and the Winter War were over.

By and large, the presumption was that Stalin had forced the  Finns to sue for peace by pouring everything he had against them.  A more accurate observation was that expressed by German Lieutenant-General Dittmar.  The typical Soviet soldier was unusually resilient, and the Red Army had learned–and learned quickly–from its mistakes.  If these facts were brought to Hitler’s attention, he must have considered them irrelevant.

 

* * *

himmler's BMW

     Reichsfuehrer Himmler, speaking casually at an informal gathering of some higher-ranking Nazis, had recently quoted a Wehrmacht report in his typical pretentiously off-handed manner, explaining that the real object of Operation Barbarossa was to eradicate thirty million Slavic persons from the face of the Earth[1].  Himmler’s purpose in mentioning this was most probably to steel himself and his cohort for the work that lay ahead[2].

 

* * *

Stalin

Although it was not reported at the time, Stalin went into something like a mild state of shock when he fully grasped the reality of the German attack.  Feeling that he had, in his own words, “fucked up,” he secluded himself for more than a week, finally offering his resignation to the Politburo.  Rather than have him arrested and executed, as he expected, they refused his resignation.  When he wondered aloud if he were able to lead the nation to victory, they insisted that he must, that no one else among them could.  With this, he began to recover, returning to his Kremlin office the next day.

On July 3rd, he addressed the nation.  Speaking softly and setting aside the usual Party claptrap, he simply reassured his people by calling on their love of country.  Strangely, perhaps miraculously, they responded.  It is, of course, preposterous to suggest that our world owes its existence to a sociopath directly responsible for more deaths then can be attributed to Hitler himself, and yet it is absurdly true that with nothing more than his pluck at the right moment, Stalin wrested the world from Hitler’s grasp, as had Churchill before him[3].

 

 

[1] The actual number of Soviet Citizens who died in the course of the war is believed to be twenty-seven million.  The precise number cannot be known.  Unlike the US Army, the Red Army did not collect identity information of battlefield casualties, and among the civilian population, it was customary to say nothing whenever a neighbor disappeared for any reason.  However, extrapolating from those instances in which precise losses can be documented will establish that twenty-seven million is an accurate estimate, and it can be ascertained that of the one-hundred-ninety-three million Soviet Citizens whose whereabouts were known in June of 1941, twenty-seven million–fourteen percent of them–were nowhere to be found by May of 1945.  While this figure cannot be meaningfully comprehended, it can be dramatically and effectively visualized by spelling out the word “RUSSIA” with Scrabble tiles, and then removing one of the tiles.

[2] The resettlement of ethnic Poles from Upper Silesia, West Prussia and Warthegau–portions of Imperial Germany unilaterally conferred upon Poland by the Versailles Treaty, then occupied by Germany in 1939 during the invasion of Poland and annexed into the New Reich–into the central swath of western Poland, in order to implement the repatriation of ethnic Germans from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bessarabia–regions that had arbitrarily come under the auspices of the Soviet Union, also in 1939–made it increasingly evident that Adolf Eichmann’s proposal that the Jews of Nazi Europe be corralled in the Easternmost area under the authority of the Third Reich–the western portion of central Poland–would be unworkable.

[3] On Saturday, October 25, 1986 at Shea Stadium, in the tenth inning of game six of the 1986 World Series, the Boston Red Sox were one strike away from defeating the New York Mets and winning the series.  In the bottom of the tenth, with two out, two on, and two strikes, Ray Knight hit a single, allowing Gary Carter to score.  Minutes later, again with two out, two on, and two strikes, Kevin Mitchell scored the tying run when a wild pitch to Mookie Wilson bounced away from catcher Rich Gedman..  A few minutes after that, still two out, two on, and two strikes, Wilson hit a grounder to first which bounced under Bill Buckner’s glove.  This error allowed Knight to score the winning run, forcing a seventh game, played on Monday night because of rain on Sunday.  The Mets won game seven, eight to five.

In essence, Stalin’s radio address of July 3rd was a base hit at a crucial moment.  There would be another forty-six months of war in Europe, and the first nineteen of those months would involve ceaselessly hard and desperate fighting for the Red Army and the Soviet Union.  But Hitler would never again be one strike away from retiring the Red Army.